The emerging Republican presidential field is made up of four primary groups: the Populists, the Intellectuals,  the Category Killers and the ‘Give Me a Break’ group. I wish it weren’t so.
But that is just how things are shaping up.
Here’s the basic breakdown:

1. Populists - This group done well cashing in on the Tea Party, but their populist streak means they’re either god-n-guns types or conservative crowd pleasers. Usually light on fiscal issues and hard on social issues, this group has to be taken seriously simply because it reflects much of red-state America. Members of this group will be easy targets for the liberal media, which -- paradoxically -- may work to their advantage.

2. Intellectuals - This group can talk over their audiences’ heads, but they can also be shrewdly pragmatic in their politicking. Most in this group are either Constitutional purists,  hardball-playing executives (or both). Often light on social issues and heavy on fiscal issues, some in this group are less well known, but all are capable. They’re able to articulate ideological contrast with Obama and capable of containing the MSM with both wit and wisdom.

3. Category Killers - This is group of flip-floppers, RINOs and its members make mince-meat out of a Venn diagram. They got where they are on the Art of Compromise. No purists here. But politically savvy to be sure. Probably the most formidable, members of this group can be light on substance, heavy on promotion and genius when it comes to strategy. They are proven to get stuff done, but what they do get done will seldom be pretty. They’re category killers because they mix so much of the other categories and aren’t as committed to principles.

4. Give Me a Break - This is a group most will find difficult to take seriously for various reasons. Either they have no political experience or are engaging in goofy self-promotion. If neither of the afforementioned apply, they are simply not credible candidates in my opinion. (Yes, I’m biased and I don’t get paid enough to be otherwise.) Radio jocks, CEOs and CEOs turned radio jocks are not exempt by virtue of being such. They fail my credibility test on other grounds, whether it's that they’re silly, reckless or inarticulate spokespeople for their platforms.

Now for the who’s who -- as if you couldn’t guess:

1. Populists

  • Sarah Palin
  • Michelle Bachman, and
  • Mike Huckabee

2. Intellectuals

  • Mitch Daniels
  • Ron Paul
  • Gary Johnson

3. Category Killers

  • Tim Pawlenty
  • Newt Gingrich
  • Mitt Romney

4. Give Me a Break

  • Donald Trump
  • Rick Santorum
  • Herman Cain

If I’ve left a candidate out -- or included someone who has not “officially” declared -- I apologize. Indeed, I’m still waiting to see whether Governors Jindal and/or Christie will be dragged in. Jindal is a pretty solid 2. Christie is, for me, a 2-3 split. But both are as much doers as intellectuals.

There is a continuum between political expedience and ideological purity. No politician can sit at either of these extremes and succeed. If you’re excessively ideological, you’ll get nothing done. If you worship reelection and opinion polls, you’ll mangle your principles. So if we crossed the above four categories with our purity continuum, we’d get a pretty interesting -- though admittedly subjective -- matrix. It’s a loose, temporary political typology of the Republican presidential field.

Personally, if I’m going to have to hold my nose and vote, I’d want a 2 who’s about 2/3rds the way along the continuum towards purity. I think in this day and age, there is a lot of pragmatism in principle. Reagan proved that once. So did Gingrich earlier in his career. In any case, I think the country is ready for a smart Republican. (Yes, progressives, they exist.)

Max Borders is a writer living in Austin. He blogs at Ideas Matter.